What is roe and what is caviar? Are there any differences besides the name? Yes, there is. Both are fish eggs but processed in two very different ways. Sturgeon caviar, the ‘real’ and original caviar are characterized by its delicacy and its expensive cost. This can be the reason why there are less expensive varieties of caviar at today’s market to serve the average person and not only the royals as it used to be.
Caviar: Exclusive and salted eggs
The name caviar translates as “unfertilized salt eggs” and that is exactly what caviar is. Caviar is the processed, salted fish roe of certain types of fish, often sturgeon. Most caviar from sturgeon fish comes from the Black Sea or the Caspian Sea by Azerbaijan, Iran, Russia, and Kazakhstan. Beluga caviar is probably the most famous and expensive. The Beluga is larger, more buttery, and silver-grey than the others. Other common types of caviar are Osetra, White Sturgeon, and Amur Sturgeon. There are only 27 species of sturgeon and only this type of processed roe can be called and labelled as “caviar”. The species brings various caviar in terms of size, colour, and flavour.
The process of caviar
The process of caviar is long and caring. The roe is harvested and rinsed to remove all the membranes from the eggs, so only the ‘best’ egg is left. Hereafter the eggs are lightly salted, pressed, and can cure before being packed into a custom made tins. Sometimes caviars are pasteurized to extend their shelf-life. Caviar has a salty taste, as the texture of caviar is often soft, translucent, and grainy. Some of the best caviar melts on the tongue as a result of the fine process. Caviar is graded based on its colour and the size of the eggs.
Why is caviar so expensive?
The reason caviar is so expensive and lucrative eating is twofold.
First of all, sturgeon species everywhere are threatened due to overfishing, pollution, and general habitat destruction. The sturgeon, as one of the few animals in the world, has largely not changed its appearance in the millions of years it has existed yet the roe has always been exclusive. Sturgeon can live to be over 100 years old. Caviar used to be a poor man’s food in Russia, but in the 1600s sturgeon became luxurious dining among the Russian court. Since sturgeon has increased its popularity and during the 1900s the fish was nearly extinct. Nowadays the species is still alive, but listed as an endangered species and has been under protection since the late 1990s. Catching or trading wild sturgeon is strictly prohibited. All trade-in caviar and sturgeon are controlled by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). Some caviar, such as Beluga Caviar, is illegal in some countries. The majority of sturgeons are farmed in Germany, Italy, and France.
Secondly, the female fish are several years from reaching maturity and begin producing eggs. Baerii reaches maturity around year 6-7 while the famous Beluga is mature at year 18. This explains why farmed sturgeon caviar has very high prices.
Roe: The caviar substitute
Roe is the fully ripe, unfertilized internal egg mass. It may come from different fish or shellfish. “Roe” is a term that encompasses all fish eggs other than sturgeon. Roe has a lot of different types. The most common types of fish roe are tobiko, salmon, capelin roe (masago), and trout roe. Fish roe is another type of roe. Between caviar and roe lies fish roe. Fish roe is also fully ripe, unfertilized egg mass. Whereas the roe comes from all kinds of fish and shellfish, fish roe only comes from fish such as sturgeon, whitefish, salmon, trout, and mackerel.
Since the label “caviar” is reserved for roe from sturgeon, roe from other fish must be labelled as “caviar substitute”, although rules for the EU and Northern America are different. In EU is it allowed to call a roe “kaviar” when spelt with “k”.
Different types of roe
As caviar has a long process, sometimes separating the individual eggs, this is not the case with roe. Roe is used in many different ways. It is sold fresh in the whole form or sliced, sometimes preserved in various forms, and you will find roe in different products like roe pate. Fresh cod or haddock roes can be expensive, and most commonly are eaten raw.
Caviar and roe are often enjoyed in small amounts. Sometimes caviar, especially in the high end and expensive class, is eaten neat with just a touch of salt. But both products are great for Japanese cuisine, especially for sushi and also for dessert.
Whether the favoured product is caviar or roe both are rich in nutrition and have health benefits include a high number of carotene. Carotene found in caviar is known to help increase the skin’s ability to fight off the effects of UV rays from the sun. Additionally, carotene is responsible for the reddish-orange colour in the roe.
Caviar and roe are not sustainable food, but fortunately, there are great alternatives. Seaweed caviar is plant-based caviar with important vitamins and minerals. Unlike caviar and roe there is no limitation when it comes to the use of seaweed caviar. It can boost your plate as a beautiful garnish without harming fish. Our goal is to help reduce the carbon footprint and get more to eat sustainable seaweed.